I was only 6 years old when I was marked for ever, literally.
I was crying because I was cold and hungry and my father told me to keep quiet a couple oftimes but I couldn’t. My mom tried to calm me but I just wouldn’t stop crying. My father spanked me and I cried harder and he grew more desperate and mad. He ran to the kitchen, turned the stove on, waited until the burner turned red, grabbed me and put me on top of it. My mother screamed, cried and told him to stop but she never really actually tried to stop him. I think she was afraid of him, too.
A few days later my mom took me to the hospital because my burns were getting infected. That day, they took my parents away from me, they took me to a strange place full of parentless kids and only allowed me to see them during holidays and some weekends.I started to pluck off my eyelashes first, then,the hair ofmy head.I was confused, lonely and sad. I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to learn, talk, make friends, all Iknew was that I wanted to be reunited with my parents… And it turns out they didn’t want me back, it was easier for them to just visit me there until they actually stopped visiting, they stopped coming to get me for holidays, they stopped caring. I became a parentless kid like most of the kids there in the orphanage.
I worked for an orphanage during two years when I wasinhigh school and the story narrated above is the story of a little kid, called Pedro, who despite of being violently abused and burned by his parents he didn't hate them, he still missed them and loved them. At the orphanage Pedrito was disoriented and depressed, he wouldn't talk to anyone and he started to pluck out his eyelashesfrom stress until he had none to plug out anymore. All he wanted to dowas togo back home. After a few months at the orphanage we saw Pedrito evolve and make some progress, he made some friends and got more interested with schoolwork. As time went by, Pedrito’s family stopped visiting him and picking him up for holidays. Pedrito got very affected by this and the progress he had made went down to zero. Every time I saw him, I wanted to cry because I saw a hopeless and traumatized look in the face of this 6-year-old kid. What did he do wrong to deserve this much suffering? Despite all the love and help we tried to provide him, he wasn't happy. After a year and a half at the orphanage Pedrito escaped, probably tolive in the cold streets of El Alto, Bolivia. We tried to find him but we never saw him again.
Pedrito’s story is one of many happening in the world where children end up living in the streets exposed to dangers like human trafficking, alcohol, drugs, and all types of violence, abuse and neglect. Every story is heartbreaking. Most street children are not living on the streets because they want a free life or because they want to, they are living on the streets because of amoral conditions in societies. A survey made to street youth in Bolivia showed that 40% of them are on the streets as a result of physical abuse, 13% as a result mental abuse, 18% due to parental death and 16% because of abandonment and 7% as a result of poverty. [i] In Bolivia, street children sleep in sewers, abandoned buildings, under bridges and eat scraps like dogs. As a consequence, they are dirty, hungry, hurt, ashamed, and hopeless. Many turn to drugs as a coping mechanism. Violence is one of the main causes (53%) why children in Bolivia are surviving in the streets and no one protects them, not even the police. To survive in the streets many become beggars and many others turn to prostitution, stealing, or selling illegal substancesamong other things. This is why the government, the police and society see them as garbage.
It has been frustrating for me to see these children and not be able to change their realities or help them to get out of that cycle of violence, abuse, poverty, stress and abandonment. Since I started to work with the orphanage I have been asking myself howIcanmake a marginal difference in these children's lives? I have realized that the problem is so big that I have to start small, changing lives one or a few at a time. Providing the children who are already in this situation help and opportunities to get out of the streets. More so, I want to fight to prevent these kids from being in situations that obligate them to end up in the streets in the first place. I believe that for this, we need to make parents aware of the influence that domestic violence at home has on their children. A study performed by UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2007, shows that boys who are exposed to domestic violence are twice as likely to become abusive men, and girls who witnessed acts of violence and abuse against themselves or their mothers are twice as likely to tolerate and accept violence in their marriage. [ii] This is how some victims, without even knowing it, transmit violence from generation to generation. Also, children who have been abused or have witnessed domestic violence will have difficulty to learn, socialize, perform well in school and develop close and positive relationships. [ii]
Violence of any type is not justifiable, but especially against children since they are so vulnerable and cannot defend themselves. Most children’s end up in the streets due to some kind of violence. Some become delinquents to survive because everyone else neglects them. These children do not need more punishment; they need society’s help, our help. To help them we need to make their parents aware of the effect that domestic violence has on children and support projects that allow these kids to restore their childhood, have an education, a safe place to sleep and be loved.
Pugoka (Pumping Good Karma) is a step into the solution. We are currently supporting the housing project for street children in El Alto, called Luz de Esperanza. Pugoka is promoting two urgent needs they have at this moment. One, is hiring an elementary school teacher to reinsert the boys into the government school system and the other, is fixing their roof which has leaks. In a village called Vacas in Cochabamba, we are promoting the construction of a bathroom for Delfina, a 24 y.o. girl who was tending to her sheep and unfortunately stepped on a high voltage cable that had fallen on the ground and now suffers from severe sequels that hinder her from living a normal life. Pugoka, wants to care for the forgotten, Pugoka makes visible the invisible and with the good and generous people all around the globe, we will improve the life of millions of Pedritos.
[i] Huang, "A Comparative Analysis of Abandoned Street"
[ii]UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2007